Borders is Done: Further Evidence of the Impact of the Internet on Book Publishing

On Monday, I blogged on a New York Times article that documented the “victory” of the E-book revolution. Yesterday’s Times has further evidence of the unprecedented changes facing book publishers and sellers because of the Internet. “Calling Off Auction, Borders Plans to Liquidate” reports on the final downfall of Borders, on of the nation’s leading bookstores.

Here are some excerpts:

Borders flagship store in Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Borders Group said Monday that it would liquidate, shutting down the 40-year-old bookseller after it failed to find a last-minute savior.

Though it is not a big surprise, the move will still strip the publishing industry of shelf space that is becoming increasingly scarce as brick-and-mortar stores continue to founder.

“Following the best efforts of all parties, we are saddened by this development,” Mike Edwards, Borders’ president, said in a statement. “The headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, e-reader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now.”

“It saddens me tremendously because it was a wonderful chain of bookstores that sold our books very well,” said Morgan Entrekin, the president and publisher of Grove/Atlantic, an independent publisher. “It’s part of the whole change that we’re dealing with, which is very confusing.”

The news exposed a deep fear among publishers that bookstores would go the way of the record store, leaving potential customers without the chance to stumble upon a book and make an impulse purchase. Publishers have worried that without a specific place to browse for books, consumers could turn to one of the many other forms of entertainment available and leave books behind.

All of this is bad news for those of us who love browsing, buying, and reading books, not to mention writing them. I always enjoyed my visits to Borders, partly because I could buy a book and a latté and sit for a while.

But not everybody is crying into their latté because of the end of Borders.

Independent bookstores, historically the foes of the big chains, stand to benefit from the closings of Borders stores. That effect has already begun to be seen all over the country from the Borders stores that closed earlier this year.

At Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, Wis., sales rose 20 percent in June and July after a Borders several miles away went out of business, said Lanora Hurley, the owner.

“Everybody was saying those customers are going to go online,” Ms. Hurley said. “But there’s still a market for print books, and I’m happy to see that that is flowing to an independent bookstore. I’ve got lots of new customers.”

But the effect that superstores have had on independents in the last two decades was not entirely forgotten. Linda Bubon, an owner of Women and Children First, a 31-year-old bookstore in Chicago, said she had watched incredulously as Borders opened store after store in the last 10 years.

“Now we have this behemoth off our backs,” she said. “It’s not the politic answer to say that inside, there’s a little happy bookseller who’s jumping up and down.”

I am not happy over the demise of Borders. But I think this provides yet more evidence of the fundamental changes happening in the book publishing industry. Will those who care about books, including those who make a living by publishing and selling them, pay attention?

It will be interesting to see if the demise of Borders opens up a new market for smaller, mom and pop bookstores. I’m perfectly happy buying most of my books electronically and reading them on my Kindle. But there’s nothing quite like going into a bookstore and browsing, discovering books that I’d never have known about otherwise. Sell me this book at a reasonable price, along with a latté, and you’ve got a happy customer.

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